Study: Chinstrap Penguin Population Declines By Over 50 Percent

September 2nd, 2012 BY VeganVerve | No Comments
Chin-strap Penguin

Despite global knowledge of the issue of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions still continue to grow. A total of 31.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions were released into the atmosphere during last year, an increase of 1 gigaton. Despite reductions in many nations, a significant increase in China caused yet another rise in year-to-year carbon emissions and yet another year of record emissions. China increased their emissions by 9.3 percent due to increased coal use, India also saw increases while the U.S. and EU saw reductions. Even with reductions the level of emissions across nations is too high to maintain.

Growing emissions not only impact the regions near the location they are emitted, but have widespread impacts as seen by global warming. The poles, especially the Arctic, are even more susceptible to the impacts of global warming despite being farthest from the majority of the emissions. Antarctica has long been thought to be less subjected to the impacts compared to the Arctic, however, some species are showing disturbing declines which may be pointing to more drastic changes in the region in a smaller time frame than expected.

According to a study previously published, krill population declines are impacting penguins in the region which depend upon the species for sustenance. The study evaluated chinstrap penguins on Deception Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. The researchers studied subcolonies on the island, which is in the Antarctic Peninsula and has greater impacts of warming than other regions of the Antarctic. A thirty-six percent decline was found in the Vapour Col colony of chinstrap penguins.

Now a new study has been published in the journal Polar Biology as part of the Antarctic Site Inventory Project. Researchers analyzed the chinstrap penguin population across Deception Island rather than a single colony. However, their results were similar in that the population appears to have been severely decimated due to the impacts of climate change, the greatest issue being a decline in krill populations.

A decline in population of greater than fifty percent was found to have occurred on the island since 1986-87. On-ground field studies were performed and then compared to satellite data, both sets of data concluded the same decline in penguin populations. Overall, the largest colony of Bailey Head appears to have 50,408 breeding pairs, while the island as a whole contains 79,849 breeding pairs.

One potential reason for the declining chinstrap numbers was thought to be tourism. Deception Island is a popular tourist destination in Antarctica and had approximately 25,000 tourists in the final year included in the study, 2008-09. However, declining krill was concluded as the culprit due to other krill-dependent species declining, including the Adelie penguin. In addition, nearby colonies such as Bailey Head, receive only approximately ten percent of the visitors the Vapour Col colony does. Both the previous study and this study has concluded that a decline in krill is the most pressing issue for the penguins and that tourism has had limited impact.

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